It’s International Women’s Day! This historical day has been celebrated on March 8 since the early 1900s as a time to respect and appreciate women, whether its just the wonderful ladies we know in our own lives or the acknowledgement of women’s economic, political, and social achievements. Among the wonderful things women like Marie Curie and Eleanor Roosevelt have accomplished, here are a few ladies of color who have held their own.
Isabel González, political activist, (1882-1971)
Isabel González was young, unmarried, and pregnant when she arrived in New York City. She had plans to marry the father of her child, but was refused entry into the U.S. because of strict immigration laws. In a case that went on to become groundbreaking, González v. Williams brought issues regarding the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. to light. After gaining her citizenship, González wrote a series of letters to the New York Times in an effort to get her ideas out there. She actively pursued the cause of U.S. citizenship for all Puerto Ricans, and ultimately achieved her goal.
Jovita Idár, journalist, (1885–1946)
As a journalist, Jovita Idár was a woman after my own heart. She reported on the discrimination against Mexican children as well as several lynchings taking place. During the Mexican Revolution, Idár organized The White Cross (La Cruz Blanca) to treat the wounded soldiers on both sides. Her giving knew no bounds. Idár also donated to poor individuals, founded The League of Mexican Women, and created free schools for Mexican children.
Josephine Baker, entertainer, (1906-1975)
Although Josephine Baker (born Freda Josephine McDonald) dropped out of school when she was just 12 years old, she went on to become one of the world’s most celebrated – and versatile – entertainers. What’s more, she also worked undercover for the French Resistance in WWII. Baker was an avid civil rights activist in the U.S., refusing to perform for segregated audiences. She was a political icon and was even offered the role as unofficial leader of the civil rights movement following the assassination of MLK. She declined, saying she wanted to be there for her twelve children, all of whom she adopted from around the world. When Baker passed away in 1975, she was the first woman to receive French military honors at her funeral.
Mutsuko Miki, activist, (1917-2012)
Mutsuko Miki was the First Lady of Japan while her husband was prime minister from 1974 to 1976. She was a prominent activist and openly supported pacifism, campaigning to reinstate a clause to the Japanese Constitution that would prohibit war in the country. (She fought for this clause, known as Article 9, until 2011.) Similarly, Miki pushed for friendly relations between Japan and North Korea. Women’s rights were also important for Miki, who rallied for “comfort women” – who were forced into sexual slavery during WWII – to be paid for their work. In 1995, she took matters into her own hands by joining a charity that would compensate these women.
Vijaya Lakshmi Nehru Pandit, political figure and activist, (1900-1990)
A diplomat and politician, Vijaya Lakshmi Nehru Pandit was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post in India. She became India’s ambassador to several countries in the mid-1900s, including the Soviet Union, Ireland, Mexico, and Spain. Her work led her to rise in rank among Indian delegation for the UN, and in 1953, she became the first woman president of the UN General Assembly.
Sui Sin Far, author, (1865-1914)
Sui Sin Far was a pen named (used by Edith Maude Eaton). She was a journalist who went on to write many short stories and articles about her experience as a Chinese woman in white America. The writing asserted her Chinese heritage and helped raise visibility for other Chinese-Americans during that time. Her fictional stories spoke on political issues, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigration to the U.S.
Ella Baker, civil rights activist, (1903-1986)
Not to be confused with Josephine Baker, Ella Baker was a black civil rights and human rights activist whose career spanned five decades. She worked with big-named civil rights leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois and and Martin Luther King Jr., while also serving as a mentor for up-and-coming young leaders, like , Rosa Parks and Diane Nash. Baker got involved with social causes after listening to her grandmother recall stories about when she was a slave. Baker and her grandma were very close.
Who are some of your favorite historical women of color?